Pioneers of Dive Safety

DAN President Dan Orr at Aquarius Reef Base, Key Largo, Fla.
Dedication to diver safety and well-being; that summarizes the service of two men who spent their entire adult lives on the cutting edge of diving and recreational-diver training. Between them, they may have saved more divers from serious injury, at least indirectly, than any other two people in the dive community.

Each year the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) announces the winners of its Reaching Out Awards, which recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to the sport of diving by "reaching out in some special way to improve the sport for everyone." The awards, considered DEMA's Hall of Fame, are presented at the annual DEMA trade show. The 2012 award recipients are Dan Orr and Dick Rutkowski.

Orr is best known for his current role as the president of Divers Alert Network® (DAN®). However, it is the totality of his experiences leading to that appointment that have made a big impact on the sport of diving. He was DAN's first director of training, developing DAN's original Oxygen First Aid for Scuba Diving Injuries course in 1991, but even that was preceded by nearly 30 years of diving and diver training.

Orr was an aircrew rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy and went on to become a dive instructor for the YMCA, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). He did everything from teaching individual certification classes to serving as the founding chairman of the NAUI Technical Advisory Group. As the director of underwater education at Ohio's Wright State University, he created a self-sustaining diving program that taught scuba classes for academic credit. The program was partially funded through donations and proceeds generated by an annual "scuba flea market," which was Orr's brainchild as well.

Orr eventually joined the faculty of Florida State University, where he became involved in cave and research diving and worked with Disney's Living Seas Pavilion at Epcot. He began working at DAN in 1991.

Orr and Dick Rutkowski, recipients of the 2012 DEMA Reaching Out Awards.
Rutkowski, who made his first recreational scuba dive in 1953, worked in government service for 33 years, joining the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970, the year it was founded. He was a meteorologist in the Arctic and the Antarctic and later was a NOAA diver and scientific technician. Early on, Rutkowski worked on the NOAA tables for nitrox use in scientific research. He was a NOAA Aquanaut in the undersea lab in the Bahamas and later was NOAA's director of diver training. He also established the NOAA recompression chamber for Miami and Central and South America.

After retiring from NOAA, Rutkowski started several companies related to scuba diving including Hyperbarics International Inc. in Key Largo, Fla., which sets up chambers and trains hyperbaric physicians and technicians. He has trained more than 7,000 medical personnel in hyperbaric medicine.

Rutkowski introduced nitrox to the recreational diving community and was the founder of American Nitrox Divers International (ANDI) and, later, the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD). To this day he is known as the "Father of Recreational Technical Diving."

Orr and Rutkowski have changed the face of recreational diving. Through education and science, they have helped make diving the safe, exhilarating sport it is today.

© Alert Diver — Fall 2012